An American Fulbright-Nehru English teaching assistant shares her experience of exploring India through language and culture.
Anesce Dremen is an American writer who was in India in 2022 as a Fulbright-Nehru English Teaching Assistant. (Photograph courtesy Anesce Dremen)
When I first visited India in January 2020, I aspired to challenge myself culturally, linguistically and creatively. I wanted to venture out of my comfort zone and write and edit. Literature, and its diverse voices, was the medium which helped me question and deconstruct misconceptions about the world. I hoped my experiences could also seed cross-cultural conversations.
I was in Jaipur when the COVID-19 lockdown started. I knew no one in the city, couldn’t get housing, nor afford the repatriation flight. I decided to take my chances and buckle down. During that time, I wrote the first draft of my memoir in a backpackers’ hostel. I joined “The Quarantine Train”—a virtual writing collective with over 90 members across India and abroad. I matured as a writer, and expanded my understanding of Indian literature and cultures, slowly assimilating with a community in an unknown country.
Poetry meets photography
Over the summer, I enrolled in a Hindi course at the American Institute of Indian Studies, whose Hindi program is run from Jaipur. The virtual classes began at 9 p.m. and our teachers taught from home late at night to accommodate an early time zone for students in the United States. I believe language learning is crucial to cultural immersion—especially in a country as linguistically diverse as India.
The day after my virtual classes ended, I flew to Goa to edit my book and to be closer to a community of writers. While brewing white tea in a hostel, I offered cups to passing guests, and this is how I met Balvinder Singh, a portrait photographer from Delhi.
After slowly steeped conversations, we rented a scooter to explore Goa’s coast together for a day and decided to collaborate on poetry and photography. In-between frames, our conversation drifted between the professional and the personal. An initial exploration of friendship developed into conversations around confronting judgment, expressing emotion and portraying flight. Through lighting techniques, singed hair, and sustained inquiry, we explored what it meant to fly without lifting our feet from the ground. Afterward, Balvinder would share edited photographs and I would distill our words into thematically related poetry.
During my Fulbright-Nehru English Teaching Assistantship experience in Kolkata in 2022, I aimed to include as many creative activities in the classroom as possible: acting out verbs, singing American songs, writing a booklet about growing up, and learning how to embrace making mistakes for the sake of learning. I wanted to create a compassionate classroom where young girls’ imagination was encouraged.
Traveling through India during a tumultuous time, meeting writers, collaborating with artists from different backgrounds, and teaching English at a Bangla-medium school has enriched my understanding of the complexity of India. I believe that art and conversations can plant the seeds of mutual understanding among cultures and countries. Wherever I go, I will integrate my passions of creative writing and compassionate cross-cultural conversations.
Anesce Dremen is an American travel writer, poet and aspiring novelist. She was a Fulbright-Nehru English Teaching Assistant in India in 2022.
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